Global Week of Action Against Gun Violence

Maribel Gonzales Conventional Weapons

Author
Maribel Gonzales

The Ploughshares Monitor Summer 2010 Volume 31 Issue 2

The 2010 “Global Week of Action against Gun Violence” from May 10-16 “saw a record number of events, participation, impact and media coverage in over 90 countries” (IANSA 2010). On May 14-15 in Calgary, Project Ploughshares and Ploughshares Calgary co-hosted the showing of documentary film Devil’s Bargain: A Journey into the Small Arms Trade and a day-long workshop on reducing armed violence.

Events in Calgary

Devil’s Bargain reveals a web of arms brokers, shady transport companies, and end-users, operating in the “gray zone” between the legal and black-market small arms trade. It concludes with a call for an international arms trade treaty (ATT) to curb the illegal arms trade. Audience members were visibly shocked by the film. Afterwards, many signed the People’s Arms Trade Treaty, a simple set of demands for “a bullet-proof Arms Trade Treaty” (AI 2010) to stamp out the irresponsible arms trade.

The workshop, “Small Arms, Big Impact: Addressing Armed Violence in Communities,” examined measures to prevent and reduce armed violence from global, regional, national, and local perspectives. Participants included members of Ploughshares Calgary, Alliance to End Violence, Alberta Provincial Rifle Association, Responsible Firearms Owners of Alberta as well as officials from the Canada Firearms Program, Royal Canadian Mounted Police, Calgary Police Commission, and the Calgary City Council. Following are some key points from presentations given at the workshop.

A lack of development and community violence

Ploughshares Program Associate Maribel Gonzales noted that armed violence is both a cause and consequence of the lack of development. This two-way relationship is acknowledged in the Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development (2006). Gonzales also drew attention to the armed violence “lens” developed by the Development Assistance Committee of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD 2009, pp. 49-50). The “lens” applies a people-centred perspective to the analysis of the victims of violence; the perpetrators and their motivations; the instruments or weapons; and the institutional and cultural environment at the local, national, regional, and global levels.

Around the world, two-thirds of the people who die violently die in non-war settings. Joyce Hewett, Coordinator of Public Education and Legal Reform at Woman Inc, a Jamaican nongovernmental organization, provided a compelling regional (Caribbean) and national perspective of this trend.

The Caribbean’s homicide rate of 18.1 per 100,000 in 2004 is more than double the world average of 7.6 per 100,000 inhabitants (Geneva Declaration Secretariat. 2008, p.73). In this region, Jamaica fares worst, with a 2008 homicide rate of 61 per 100,000 (IMPACS 2009). Hewett stated:

The proliferation of guns and ammunition has heightened the violence to untold proportions, particularly in the inner-city communities … described as “war-torn,” as many lives were lost over the years because of the “borders” [a physical barrier or invisible line or point of separation] established between “warring” communities.

Ironically, these garrison communities were originally carved out by competing political parties in the early 1970s. Politicians armed the young men of poor inner-city communities, most of them unemployed and unskilled, to get out the vote and protect their territory from political rivals. In exchange for delivering votes, the “Dons” (gang leaders) earned preferential access to jobs, contracts, and other services. In recent years the political influence has declined as the links of the garrison communities with organized crime, to move illegal guns and drugs, have strengthened.

Reducing community violence

Gonzales gave a presentation on the Peace Management Initiative (PMI) in Kingston, Jamaica and RCMP Constable Robert Humphries described the Chestermere, Alberta Crime Reduction Partnership (CCRP). Both of these youth violence programs include a combination of most or all of the following strategies: prevention, intervention, rehabilitation, and law enforcement.

The PMI is an early intervention mechanism that aims to prevent conflict from escalating to violence; and to support structures that strengthen stability, resilience, and pride in inner-city Kingston communities. PMI intervenes at a community’s request and works with the community and civic organizations. Key strategies include:

  • Prevention through extensive information gathering, early detection, mediating to broker ceasefires and peace agreements between conflicting factions, promoting surrender of weapons and community unity;
  • Intervention by providing youth at risk social and economic alternatives such as cultural and sporting events; opportunity fairs to access skills training, education, and job opportunities; and support for small business;
  • Rehabilitation by organizing retreats and providing psychological counselling and therapy to both victims and perpetrators of violence.

Because the police are not trusted in these communities, a link with law enforcement is notably absent in PMI’s approach.

In contrast, the CCRP focuses on youth under probation orders. Siblings with no criminal record are also given priority. CCRP is implemented by an integrated enforcement team of social workers and the police. Hence, law enforcement is a key strategy, along with:

  • Prevention by employing community agencies (schools, social service agencies ) to raise awareness of the consequences of violent behaviour;
  • Intervention through provision of support and referral services tailored to the youth and their families and alternative activities such as sports;
  • Rehabilitation through counselling services.

The PMI and the CCRP both aim to prevent youth from getting involved in criminal gangs, employ multi-pronged strategies, and recognize the value of partnerships in the community.

Curbing the misuse of small arms

One of the drivers of armed violence is the proliferation and misuse of small arms. Firearms Officer Bernie Coles outlined the licensing and registration provisions of the Canadian Firearms Act, which governs the possession, transportation, use, and storage of firearms. Ploughshares Senior Program Associate Kenneth Epps outlined key regional and international policy. Epps noted that Canada has complied well with some policies, but not all. Canada leads in the strict regulation of exports of automatic firearms, but lags in implementing regulations on firearms marking and tracing.

Even with all these current policy instruments, Epps emphasized that there was a need for a strong ATT. He stressed that the ATT does not seek to ban legitimate firearms ownership, but to stop irresponsible arms transfers from fuelling poverty, war crimes, and human rights abuses.

In the open forum session of the workshop, some participants expressed concern over losing their right to own and use firearms. The view that people, not guns, were the source of violence was repeatedly expressed. Still, it was apparent that all parties and sides were engaged in active listening. As Diane Janzen, Ploughshares Calgary’s program director, noted, “I do think that we were able to create a space to share information and answer questions that did not cause anyone to dig in their heels.” Certainly one shooting club member felt that the workshop was useful. As he noted, “there is considerable misinformation in the firearms community” and he was eager to pass along his newfound knowledge.

 

References

Amnesty International. 2010. Demand a bullet-proof Arms Trade Treaty!

Geneva Declaration Secretariat. 2006. The Geneva Declaration on Armed Violence and Development.

———. 2008. Global Burden of Armed Violence.

Implementation Agency for Crime and Security. 2009. Press release for Seventh Joint Meeting of Standing Committees Chiefs of Immigration and Comptrollers of Customs. January 30.

International Action Network against Small Arms. 2010. WoA 2010.

Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development. 2009. Armed Violence Reduction: Enabling Development.

Spread the Word